Being Woke, Disrespectful And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through “West Side Story,” Spielberg!

West Side story

Gee, I’m getting a lot of opportunities to write, “I told you so!” lately. But I won’t…

In 2019 Ethics Alarms noted,

There is going to be a new film version of “West Side Story,” apparently to have one that doesn’t involve casting Russian-Americans (Natalie Wood) and Greek-Americans (George Chakiris) as Puerto Ricans. Of course, it’s OK for a white character to undergo a gender and nationality change because shut-up. This is, I believe, a doomed project, much as the remakes of “Ben-Hur” and “The Ten Commandments” were doomed. Remaking a film that won ten Oscars is a fool’s errand. So is making any movie musical in an era when the genre is seen as silly and nerdy by a large proportion of the movie-going audience, especially one that requires watching ballet-dancing street gangs without giggling. Steven Spielberg, who accepted this challenge, must have lost his mind.

Ah, but apparently wokeness, not art or profit, is the main goal.

I am so glad that, based partially on this, I turned down an invitation to do a lecture right about now for the Smithsonian on the evolution of “West Side Story” through the years. For here comes the news that Stephen Spielberg, who has never directed a musical in his life on stage or screen, has completed his “improved” version with this considerate feature:

[T]o lend the movie an extra touch of authenticity, Spielberg, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, made the choice not to subtitle any of the Spanish dialogue that’s regularly heard throughout the film. Instead, multiple scenes in West Side Story take place entirely in Spanish — or with a pronounced mixture of English and Spanish — and there’s no onscreen text to fill in the gaps for non-Spanish speaking viewers.

“Extra touch of authenticity”?!! Characters are singing their feelings in the film! I assume that, as in the first film version, they are also doing ballet in the streets. Musicals have no “authenticity.” But aside from that asinine statement from Yahoo! reporter Ethan Alter, the decision to frustrate non-Spanish speaking audience members by making dialogue from the book incomprehensible cannot be defended logically or artistically. What is the objection to sub-titles? It is not only beneficial to the movie to make certain all of the audience knows what’s being said, it is basic courtesy to the original author of the book (Arthur Laurents). What is the objective of this choice?

Divisiveness and to stick it to English-speaking Americans, it seems.

Here’s one contemptuous tweeter: “Steven Spielberg a king for not including subtitles in the Spanish dialogue for his West Side Story…very bold and non-compromising. Make these losers try and decipher what the boricuas are saying along with the rest of the Latinx.” Here’s another: “”Much to love about the new West Side Story, but Steven Spielberg’s deliberate choice not to subtitle any Spanish dialogue was his most brilliant decision. Cops and Jets gang members screaming, “speak English!” The real-world parallels to the American experience of today run deep.”

One choose not to speak English, or not to learn to speak it intelligibly. And then has chosen not to be hired for any job requiring clear and effective communication with the majority of Americans. “Speak English”? Damn right. If the new film’s objective is to discredit that basic obligation of citizenship, it doesn’t just deserve to fail, it deserves to be condemned.

Yet another tweet: “Also I like there are not subtitles when they spoke Spanish. The back and fourth between English and Spanish was so familiar ( in my house Portuguese) but you get the idea. That’s how it should be.”

Well why not communicate in grunts and clicks, then, or use pantomime? Lines in shows exist for a reason. Making them incomprehensible undermines clarity, and doing so to pander to Hispanics is obnoxious and patronizing. Not sufficiently pandering, though, for this tweeter: “So not subtitling the Spanish in “West Side Story” is weird to me because even this version doesn’t feel like something made for Latins first. When content made specifically for us doesn’t translate in subtitling it makes sense. But this, West Side Story is still by and for white folks first.”

And there you have it: the group/tribal identification obsession that is dividing the nation—and Spielberg has embraced it.

He hasn’t embraced it sufficiently to cast Puerto Rican performers as Puerto Ricans. Maria is played by a half-Columbian actress, but close enough: all Spanish speakers are the same in this “authentic” version of “West Side Story.” Ironically and stupidly, Spielberg has fallen into the trap of encouraging, rather than exposing, the foolish group bigotry exhibited by the Sharks and the Jets, but on a national scale.

15 thoughts on “Being Woke, Disrespectful And Stupid Is No Way To Go Through “West Side Story,” Spielberg!

  1. Will WSS fail as miserably as did Cats? There are many reasons to think it will come close and it seems that its budget was about the same too. That is also shocking to me.

  2. WSS, was an attempt to reveal the difficulties that arise when tribalism is prioritized over inculturation and assimilation. The rooftop scene featuring “Only in America” articulated the essence of this dichotomy. What the film and the play rightly showed was that tribalism leads to a hatred that ends in violence. It closing reprise of “There is a place for us someday” is a message of hope. Unfortunately, this new version as described emphasizes and salutes the tribalism which we have seen always ends in violence.
    I was going to attend a showing to see how they change a classic. In the past, all attempts to remake classics are doomed. Now it appears that phenomena will reoccur!

  3. I have yet to like a Spielberg film that was “important” or whatever. E.T., Indiana Jones, etc.: sure. But Schindler’s List, Amistad, Munich,,, all among the most over-rated films of the past 30 years in my view. Lincoln and Saving Private Ryan: OK, but far from great. War Horse is an absolute disaster compared to the book or the play.
    There’s nothing wrong with being really good at X but not at Y… provided you don’t think you’re a genius at Y.

    • Very much agree. I was just watching Howard Hawks’ “Red River.” Hawks really was a director who proved he could do all sorts of diverse genres, and if he tried it, he was good at it. I often wonder if Spielberg, when he tries an animated film or a musical, is emulating another of his heroes. (My father hated “Private Ryan” so much he sent a long memo to the military advisor on the film detailing what he felt were unforgivable breaches. And as an admirer of General Marshall (I can’t imagine why!), Dad was horrified that the movie would suggest that in a do or die military action like D-Day Marshall, of all people, would divert from the mission to save a single soldier.

  4. This is the United States. The language spoken by native born Americans is American English. Our original English dialect came from Mother England. Steven Spielberg’s native language is also English. As far as I know. How offensive, and alienating of his fellow Americans to exclude English subtitles from this movie. The TV show, “Narcos”, also does this. It’s both selfish and disrespectful to the American citizens whose families have been here for centuries. The Hispanics applauding this can easily go live in one of the many countries in the world where Spanish is the native language. As opposed, to continuing these not so subtle efforts to change America from a country of a people united by a shared language. To a country that is basically multiple countries in North America, like Europe. Imagine states that are de facto countries. The next Republican President needs to make English the official language of the US. As, French and English are the official languages of Canada.

  5. Very few movies then have ever gotten casting right…such as when Audie Murphy portrayed himself in To Hell and Back.

    But even then, to his complaint, the events and other characters were changed.

    There’s a Native America soldier in Murphy’s platoon – James Robert Fife, that they call “Chief” in the movie, but apparently, in real life, his nickname in the Army was “Swope”. One scene has him almost botch an ambush because he’s smoking a cigar. I got to meet the man in real life in Southern Oklahoma when I was younger – he insisted he never smoked a day in his life and evidently his sister (who was present) was assertively proud of this. Of course he wasn’t up in arms in anger over it because to him it really wasn’t a big deal.

    Click to access 2021-01-01_Swope.pdf

    • I did a show recently where many of the younger members of the cast expressed tales of the new casting rules. One girl revealed how she turned down a leading role in Fiddler because she wasn’t Jewish, and didn’t feel comfortable portraying a member of that community. Another boasted how he had decided to never audition for anything unless he was able to 100% accurately represent the character. Reactions were mixed when I asked if Edna in Hairspray would be a reasonable role for me. They did not like my idea of offering to play Gary Coleman in Avenue Q, either. Playing the wrong race is an abomination, but I was quickly shush when I pointed out that Gary is (or at least was) a boy, not a girl. Conversation quickly changed once I asked if I, as a white actor, would be able to play George Washington in Hamilton once it gets released to the rest of us. He was white, but the swapped-racial casting was such a big deal…

      I’m simply afraid that the acting profession is doomed. If the vaccine mandate don’t wipe out the cash flow, idiocy like this will kill it within a generation.

  6. I understand there’s a reworked song in the movie titled “Cuando eres un Spic* eres un Spic.”
    * I went to the last half of grade school and all of high school with tons of Cuban refugees. Most of them are violently anti-Castro (except for one guy who’s a fan of the Castro regime and had an audience with Fidel years ago, during which Fidel asked the guy how his dad was as Fidel and he had played on their high school basketball team together) and all of their children seem to be marrying non-Cubans. But the funniest, most self-deprecating humor came from another classmate who’s now fabulously wealthy who recalled taking “Spanish S” in high school which, although being an abbreviation for “Spanish for Speakers,” Rey referred to sardonically as “Spanish for Spics.”

  7. Lol other one Bites the Dust, such a fuss about this Flim, and they seem to be giving themself award’s already, Ohh how wonderful they are Yap Yap the Music notes I heard played were not up to standard as in the Real Flim, this is a bad copy and the script! Oh the Hype Oh the Drama, dancing in the street? Over done will not be going to see it. ! The rehash of this story why do it!

  8. To be honest, the old, original 1961 film version of West Side Story, which is my all time favorite movie, hands down, is the real deal for me. I saw parts of the 2021 film version of West Side Story on a TV program that emphasized the comparisons between the 1961 and the 2021 film versions of West Side Story, listened to the entire soundtrack of the 2021 film version of WSS, which I thought was very metallic sounding, and Rachel Zegler’s singing voice nasal and/or flat in many places, and Elgort’s acting and singing was overrated. Both of the above reasons, plus other reasons that would take up far too much time and space to post on here, as well as the stuff that came out about Ansel Elgort (i. e. grooming and sexually assaulting underaged girls), all made me decide to vote my pocketbook and not go to see Spielberg’s reboot/remake of the film version of West Side Story.

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